In revamp, thinking about diversity

Some say the U is hindering efforts for diversity in the Grad School restructuring.

by Emma Nelson

The plan to restructure the University of Minnesota Graduate School is intended to streamline processes and cut costs, but some are worried that amid the changes, the University’s attention to diversity will get lost.

Since the restructuring was announced in February 2009, programs and offices across the school have been moved into other University offices or to individual colleges, changing the way the Graduate School works on diversity issues.

Transitions like this are concerning, said Irene Duranczyk, chair of the University Senate’s Equity, Access and Diversity committee.

When offices that work on diversity initiatives are moved, she said, they may have less authority over graduate programs.

“You need some teeth somewhere, in my mind, in order to get closer to your goals,” Duranczyk said.

The Office for Diversity in Graduate Education was absorbed into the larger Office for Equity and Diversity, for example.

With restructuring underway, “everything is up in the air,” said Patricia Jones Whyte, director of the Office for Diversity in Graduate Education.

Whyte said restructuring has meant her office has had to find alternative ways to work with graduate programs on diversity initiatives by collaborating with other University offices, for example.

One example of collaboration is a program to hire graduate students of color as instructors on the Morris and Duluth campuses — an effort to increase faculty diversity.

Continuing initiatives

The collaboration includes recruitment and retention of graduate students of color, something Whyte said her office has been working on since before restructuring began.

In fall 2012, students of color accounted for about 10 percent of the Twin Cities’ graduate students.

Another initiative was a “community of scholars” to provide mentoring and networking opportunities for underrepresented students.

Andrew McNally, executive vice president of the Council of Graduate Students, said graduate school diversity is “a crucial issue” that should be part of the restructuring.

Graduate students have expressed concern about the lack of diversity through focus groups in the Graduate Review and Improvement Process, a recent initiative, said Henning Schroeder, dean of the Graduate School.

Schroeder said equal importance is placed on both recruiting international students and students of color in the U.S.

Officials in the graduate school are equally concerned, for example, that the number of African-American graduate students has decreased as they are with how the vast majority of international graduate students come from just three countries, he said.

Future possibilities

The goals established at the beginning of the restructuring process are just the first step, Schroeder said.

The restructuring uses seven categories to measure the quality of graduate education. They include efficiency — time to degree completion, for example — program affordability and student quality, which includes diversity.

Increasing student diversity was one of the recommendations in the final Graduate School restructuring report in 2010, but specific goals were not outlined as part of the restructuring process.

The Graduate School has worked to support diversity initiatives in part by directing money to them, Schroeder said.

The Graduate School is also collaborating with the Office of Equity and Diversity on how to incorporate diversity into program improvement.

Duranczyk said she would like to see attention to diversity integrated throughout restructuring initiatives and for the University to have more specific goals in place.

“We should have some very clear benchmarks that we’re working for as an institution,” she said.